The 2002 drought contour chart

Contour chart 2002 drought at Manilla NSW

The 2002 drought at Manilla was a failure of winter rainfall. [See Note below: “Manilla’s rainfall seasonality”.]

The top line of this contour chart shows that monthly rainfall shortages occurred in all the six months of winter rainfall dominance (April to September) of 2002. Shortages in May and July were severe, below the 5th percentile. In the summer rainfall months (October to March) that preceded and followed, rainfall was near or above normal. [See Note below: “Classes of rainfall shortage”.]

Lower down the contour chart, rainfall shortages of longer duration are shown. For droughts of 3 months duration, the rainfall shortage was extreme (1st percentile) by July 2002, as it included the serious shortage of May as well as that of July. In the same way, one sees extreme 6-month shortages in September and October, as all the monthly rainfall shortages since March added up.

By November 2002, one sees extreme droughts of 9 months and 12 months duration. The 9-month drought incorporated the consecutive months of below-normal rainfall from March to November. The extreme 12-month drought (307 mm) that was evident in November 2002 began earlier, with below-normal rainfalls in December 2001 and January 2002. That was the fourth driest 12-month period on record, after October 1965 (288 mm), August 1946 (302 mm) and November 1965 (304 mm).

The 2002 drought had no extreme rainfall shortages longer than 12 months. There were, however, some severe shortages of 18 months duration and some serious shortages of 24 months duration, due to some low rainfalls in the previous winter (2001).

By April 2003, hardly any serious rainfall shortages due to the 2002 drought remained. [See Note below: “Limitations of this analysis”]

More about the 2002 drought

Graph of monthly percentile rainfall in a droughtAnother approach to describing this 2002 drought is in the post “The 2002 rainfall shortages at Manilla”. That post has a graph showing selected monthly profiles of percentile values. It also links to two earlier posts with graphs of smoothed values of climatic anomalies.

The 2018 Drought

Drought 2018 contour chartA similar contour plot for the drought of 2018 reveals similarities and differences.

Note: Classes of rainfall shortage

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Contours of Manilla’s 2018 Drought

Drought 2018 contour chart

Displaying drought severity, date, and duration.

This image shows how an extreme drought developed at Manilla, NSW in 2018. The contours and colours indicate drought severity. They show whether the rainfall shortage was extreme, severe, or merely serious. At times without drought, they show when the rainfall was above normal.
[See Note below: “Classes of rainfall shortage”.]
Calendar months appear in order along the top, showing how the severity of drought has changed as time has passed.
Down the side, the duration of drought is shown, from one month duration at the top to thirty-six months duration at the bottom. Each month is shown on one vertical line, with a severity value plotted against each duration value.
[In other posts (like “Record 15-month Drought in 2018”) each individual month’s drought data is plotted as severity versus duration.]

The pattern of the 2018 drought


In each of the months May, June, and July 2018, the monthly rainfall was a serious or severe shortage, below the 10th percentile. As rainfall had been below normal also in March and April, each month after April saw severe and even extreme shortages that extended to durations of 3 months and longer. By August, there were extreme droughts of five-month and six-month duration, despite reasonable rain (28 mm) having fallen in August.
By September, the nine months to date were in extreme drought. That is to say, the first nine months of 2018 had a total rainfall lower than any but 1% of all nine-month periods in history.
However, in that month (September 2018), the rainfall shortage for a 12-month duration was not extreme, but merely severe. Yet the 15-month shortage for that month was also extreme. In fact, it was the lowest 15-month rainfall total in history (400 mm).
The source of the extreme 15-month shortage at this date is obvious. One year earlier, the month of September 2017 had a serious rainfall shortage, and the two previous months had little rain. From these short-term shortages in spring 2017, shortages of longer duration descend as an arc across the graph. They become mild nine-month shortages during the summer, then worsen to extreme by merging with 2018 shortages.


Manilla’s rainfall is seasonal, with two distinct modes, each dominating half the year. There is a major summer (monsoonal) mode and a minor winter (westerly) mode. The summer rainfall mode dominates from October to March and the winter rainfall mode dominates from April to September. [See Note below: “Manilla’s rainfall seasonality”.]
This graph documents a failure of winter rainfall. The 2018 months that had rainfall shortages were the months of dominance of the winter rainfall mode (April to September). Rainfall had been near or above normal in the preceding summer rainfall mode (October 2017 to March 2018), and was so again in October 2018. [See Note below: “Limitations of this analysis”]
The rainfall shortages in the previous year (2017) were also restricted to the months of the winter rainfall mode, but began very late. Shortages did not develop until the final three months (July, August, September). Only when the extreme drought of 2018 developed did those 2017 shortages have a big effect.

The 2002 drought contour plot

Contour chart 2002 drought at Manilla NSWThe most recent extreme drought at Manilla before 2018 was the drought of 2002.
A contour plot in the same format is in this post.

Note: Classes of rainfall shortage

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